Perseverance pays dividends on a trophy buffalo hunt Down Under
Story and photos by Thomas C. Tabor
Logan Walker and Fredrik Franche were assigned to me as my guides and constant companions in the days that followed. Although their combined ages fell considerably short of my accumulated years, they were quite knowledgeable in the ways of the outback and the buffalo that I was seeking. And to top our hunting party off, Kevin Gleeson decided to accompany us on the first morning in his own vehicle. Due to old rugby injuries while in college, Gleeson is sometimes plagued by horrendous bouts of agonizing pain that dramatically restricts his activities.
Without a doubt, one of the buffalo’s keenest senses is its eyesight, which it constantly relies on to protect it from approaching danger. But because a buffalo has no natural enemies in the outback, when a perceived threat is detected, rather than immediately fleeing the area, it will frequently stand its ground for a time. The challenge that ensues usually involves the buff lowering his head, elevating his nose and staring back with such intensity as to send chills up the spine of the most stalwart of hunters.
Get too close, and one of two things will happen: Either the buff will turn tail and disappear in a cloud of outback dust, or he will come charging forward with such speed and aggression that only a well-placed bullet will have the ability to stop him.
After a quick stop at the firing range to make sure my rifle was still shooting where I wanted it to, we were underway. Within a short time, we were scouring the most pristine buffalo country you’ll find anywhere. By noon, we’d looked over a number of buffalo herds and even made a couple of failed stalks. Nevertheless, as the day dragged on, we had nothing to show for the effort.
That all changed when Walker brought our ute to a jerky and unpredictable stop. In an instant, all our binoculars were trained on two buffalo standing in scattered cover some quarter-mile away. One was a young bull and clearly not what we were looking for, but the other showed promise, and everyone agreed that he was certainly worth a closer look.
TEST OF WILLS
With a quarter of a mile separating us, the bulls were on the alert, but they didn’t feel overly threatened. So, with my rifle firmly in hand and a big, .500-caliber cartridge shoved up its snout, we began our serpentine approach using what little cover was available.
A half an hour later, the concealable cover we had been enjoying was now gone, and 300 yards still separated us from our quarry. There we stood in the open, with both bulls glaring intently at us. It was obvious the buffalo were confident that the distance separating us provided an adequate amount of protection for them; however, if we were to move any closer, things would surely change.
Our only hope to get any closer came in the form of a deep, mostly dry billabong that meandered through the area much like the path that a deadly Australian reptile might take. From where we stood, we couldn’t tell for sure whether the billabong would carry us as close as we needed to be, but few other options seemed available to us.
Assuming that buffalo are unable to count, we agreed that Walker and I would attempt the stalk, while Gleeson and Franche would stay behind in an effort to keep the buffalos’ attention on them rather than Walker and me.
Another half an hour lapsed before Walker finally climbed the steep walls of the washout, returning only a moment later to say that our plan had been a successful one. The buffalo had moved into the thicker cover, but if we could get to the top of the washout undetected, we would at least be within range for a shot.
Mimicking the movements of one of Australia’s huge “salties” (Australian for a saltwater crocodile), Walker and I slithered up and over the top edge of the billabong cut and took up a position on the open plain. Fortunately for us, the buffalo had become preoccupied with their grazing. However, they were now hidden behind a wall of tangled brush and trees. Our only chance of making a shot was to wait, in hopes that they would eventually wander out of the cover.
A TURN FOR THE BEST
Beads of sweat began slowly trickling down the back of my neck. My rifle was set at the ready, resting on my bi-pod. My mind began to wander, and as I sat cross-legged on the bare ground with two 2,000-pound-plus, potentially deadly animals a mere stone’s throw away, I began thinking about how such a situation could turn nasty in a real hurry. My aging body doesn’t allow me to move as fast as it once did, and I began to wonder if I could so much as get to my feet before a charging bull got to me.
Those thoughts were quickly brushed aside when the younger of the two bulls began wandering our way, followed shortly by his much larger buddy. Without hesitation, I sent a big 570-grain bullet on a course directly for the heart/lungs area of the larger bull the moment he turned broadside.
Traveling at just under 2,400 fps, the bullet entered just behind the shoulder. But these bulls are tough and can take a lot of punishment before succumbing to an injury. So, as the bull lunged forward and started away, a second shot, more for insurance than anything else, finished the deed for good.
Looking for any sign of potential retaliation, we cautiously approached the huge animal. However, it was obvious that its body had shut down long before it had registered in its brain. Both bullets had pierced the lungs and stopped just under the skin on the opposite side.
The bull was a fine, old trophy that scored 86 inches, but one horn tip had been broomed back, and the other had a large ring worn off around it—obviously, the result of fighting with rival bulls. I was happy with my trophy, but back at camp, Gleeson wasn’t so impressed. Viewed from a distance, he had thought it was a better trophy than it actually turned out to be.
It was still early in my hunt, and that night after supper, Gleeson met me on the porch, He suggested that he would try to find another bull with a little better headgear. Needless to say, I didn’t quibble with his kind and most generous offer.
Over the next couple of days, we spotted several very good trophy bulls—but those animals didn’t get old by being foolish. We made several stalks, many of which ended with the buffalo tossing its tail in the air and disappearing in a cloud of dust.
As I discussed my concern with Walker, he shared an interesting observation with me.
“I don’t know why, but buffalo that are typically very spooky in the daytime hours just seem to settle down in the evening just before dark.”
Remarkably, that bit of information proved to be prophetic.
Late one evening on our way back to camp, that was precisely the case. We were late starting our return back to camp, and in an effort to avoid the hazards of night driving on what the Aussies loosely refer to as “roads,” Walker began pressing the gas pedal a little bit harder than usual. In another 10 minutes, it would be too dark for a shot (and besides, by that point, our thoughts were more on filling our bellies than on hunting).
As we came around the corner, my mind was jolted back to the reality of why I had come to Australia when we came face to face with a herd of about a dozen animals. Even though the herd was comprised mostly of cows, calves and immature bulls, there was one very fine herd bull in the mix.
Amazingly, they paid little attention to us. We quickly closed the range to about 50 yards. Moments later, the outback silence was once again broken by the sound of a 570-grain Barnes Triple-Shock X bullet as it left my rifle’s muzzle. And once again, the bullet entered just behind the shoulder, causing the bull to lunge forward upon impact. It was clear this time that no follow-up shot would be necessary.
After taking only a few steps, the bull stumbled and went down hard on his nose, then toppled over. He was a beautiful bull that later scored 96Â½ inches and possessed nearly perfectly matched horns that swept wide and flat, compared to the more usual upswept horns. And this one met with Gleeson’s approval, as well as my own.
My custom-built Coffin rifle performed its duties flawlessly, and I came away thinking that the .500 Jeffrey Rimless cartridge was the ultimate match for the huge Australian buffalo. All three of my handloaded Barnes Triple-Shock X bullets did their jobs well. In every case, they plowed their way through the buffalo’s heavy bone and muscle tissue, lodging either just under the skin on the opposing side or close to that area.
The two bullets retrieved from the first bull mushroomed perfectly and retained a full 100 percent of their original weight. The bullet removed from the second bull had mushroomed equally well, but it had lost 49 grains of its weight. Nevertheless, it still retained 91 percent of its original weight. You simply can’t expect better performance from a bullet under such challenging conditions.
This certainly was a hunt to remember, and the fact that my custom-built .500 Jeffrey performed its duties so well only added to the adventure.